The Search Begins
The concept for linking a parent-child program with a Native American theme was due to Harold S. Keltner in the early 20th century. Born on May 7, 1893, Harold Keltner became a program director at a young age for a local YMCA in Buffalo, New York. At the time, there was a national quest to find ways in strengthening father and son relationships. Keltner was influenced by a 1921 compilation of books called the Father and Son Library, which were developed by a Ridgewood, New Jersey resident, Lansing F. Smith of the University Society in New York, along with Frank Cheley of Denver, Colorado.
For many years, Keltner tried to find the right formula for a father and son activity. Many programs were tried, but none were successful. Harold Keltner found that annual church father and son banquets were very popular, but to his disliking, any father-son bonds that were strengthened during those events were not long lasting. Those feelings of closeness did not seem to rekindle until the next banquet the following year.
Keltner Meets Friday
During his spare time, Keltner would satisfy his love for the outdoors by taking excursions into northern Ontario, Canada. One such trip was on his honeymoon with his wife and father. After arriving by train at Temagami Station, about 300 miles north of Toronto, they rented a canoe, fished, and camped on some of the local islands of Lake Temagami.
One day, they had decided to canoe to the southern-most point of the Hudson Bay Fur Company to a Native American village on Bear Island. While half way there, a fierce storm came unexpectedly upon them and they were forced to take shelter under their canoe on a rocky island. When it was clear, they continued on and were met by a group of villagers who witness what happened to them and assumed that they had gone under water.
To Harold Keltner’s surprise, an old friend from Buffalo had recognized him, who happened to be there as a missionary. After several greetings, Keltner was introduced to the missionary’s first church member, a tall Ojibway named Joe Friday.
The Great Joe Friday
Joe Friday was a local hunter, trapper, and wilderness guide who lived in that region for most of his life. The area was so remote and unforgiving that it had yet to be settled by the white man.
Life as a hunter and guide was very difficult. Joe often canoed through dangerous white waters and drove dog teams over the ice for explorers and prospectors to the Hudson Bay region. He had to endure temperatures as cold as 40 below zero using his sled dogs to keep him warm in the wigwam. If it were not for the fatherly training and guidance that he received as a boy, he would not have been able to survive such a harsh existence.
Joe Friday was born in 1888, minutes before his twin sister Charlotte, in the northern Canadian forest of Matagami. As with Ojibway tradition, babies were usually named after some prominent incident occurring at the same time. On the morning of Joe’s birth, his parents noticed the tracks of two Caribou calves in the snow outside of their birchbark wigwam. They quickly named their new son “Ahtik,” the Ojibway word for “Caribou.”
Sometime later, Joe’s father died and the family relocated to a camp on Bear Island. There Ahtik was christened with the name “Joseph” and his family was taken in by their tribe’s chief, White Bear. For most of his youth, Joe was raised by his uncle White Bear, who devoted much of his time teaching Joe how to hunt and trap wild game. It was at that time that Joe realized the importance of the father-son relationship. He believed that a father who did not have time for his son in the formative years, lost much of his kinship with his son. The two should grow up together as two boys and two men.
On June 1, 1916, Joe enlisted in the Canadian army’s 228 Battalion at Elk Lake where he served overseas in World War I. During that time, he met and married Eva Vanderlip in 1918.
Upon his return from the war in 1919, Joe Friday found that the Temagami area had become very popular to sportsmen and hunters, so he decided to serve as a guide. It was there on the docks of Bear Island that he met Harold Keltner. And, it was there that their friendship began when Joe showed his compassionate side to Keltner.
Joe had noticed that Keltner’s finger was bleeding. Keltner explained that his finernail tore after catching the edge of the gunwhale when they were frantically rowing for shelter from the storm. Joe invited Harold up to the cabin so his wife, Eva, could fix the ailing finger. On their hike up, Joe showed he had a humorous side as well. As was common to the village, dogs were many and ran freely. A group of dogs surrounded them as Joe and Harold walked. One mongrel in particular jumped up on Keltner who then asked, “What’s his name?” Joe answered with a grin, “Dow-wogen” which in Ojibway meant “For Sale.”
As Keltner entered the cabin, he was surprised to discover that Joe’s wife was a white, well-educated nurse. She quickly mended the finger under the watchful eye of “Brave,” Joe’s big, white sled dog who was the leader of the dog team. Both Joe and Harold would later discover that their chance meeting would turn out to be one of the most important introductions of their lives.
A New Format is Born
Keltner and Friday spent many hours together in the wilderness. Fishing by day, camping and discussing Native American lore by night. Keltner loved the peace and tranquility of the area that was only interrupted occasionally by the call of a moose or howl of a wolf. The beauty of those moments began giving Keltner ideas for a possible new program.
It was during one of his discussions with Joe Friday that Keltner realized the important need for a new program. Joe had pointed out the differences in raising sons between their two cultures. The Native American father took responsibility in teaching his son how to hunt and fish, while the white man left the responsibility of teaching to the mother.
Around 1924, Harold Keltner acquired a new director’s position in St. Louis, Missouri. One of his duties was establishing a new campground in the Ozark mountains named Camp Niangua. Because of the need for camp instructors, Keltner could think of no other than his old friend, Joe Friday.
In 1925, the talented Ojibway agreed to work each summer by teaching groups of men, women, and children canoeing and woodcraft. He also gave lectures on Native American lore for father and son banquets. After one such lecture, Joe was surrounded by so many fathers with hunting & fishing questions, that the little boys were unable to get close to him. This gave Keltner the idea of incorporating Native American lore as a common level of interest between fathers and sons in an outdoor program. And so in 1926, a new parent-child programming format was born.
Both Harold Keltner and Joe Friday were able to sponsor their beliefs in the father-son relationship through the development of this new program format.
The First Tribe
In 1926, Harold Keltner organized and oversaw his program’s first tribe: the Osage of Richmond Heights, Missouri. The early formation of this tribe and program were greatly influence by the knowledge of Joe Friday, Harold Keltner’s Canadian experiences, and the popular writings of Ernest Thompson Seton on Native American lore. After six months, the tribe elected its first Chief, William H. Helefinger (a.k.a. “Chief Negaunee”).
The Rise and Decline of Y-Indian Guides
Word of the new type of program format quickly spread and in nine short years Keltner’s tribe grew into a nationally popular program offered by the YMCA known as “The Father and Sons Y-Indian Guides.” In the 1950’s, variations of the format appeared which allowed mothers and daughters to participate. All forms reached their peak popularity in the period between the death of Joe Friday on February 10, 1955 and the death of Harold Keltner on August 4, 1986.
In the early 1980’s, there was diminished national support for the program by its corporate administrators due to objections raised from a few Native Americans with regards to the program’s theme. This lead to a steady decline in general funding and promotion, which in turn affected national interest. Without Harold Keltner, Joe Friday, and strong national guidance, theme abuses and racial stereotyping became more common. In 2001, the corporate administrators of the program (both nationally and locally) began mandating the elimination of the program’s name and Native American theme. As a result, there was wide-spread concern among the participants that the popular format would no longer be available nationwide.
The Vision Lives On
In 2002, a beacon of hope came from Lighthouse, Inc., when it heard the call to revive the program format nationally. Lighthouse believed that the format was much too valuable to allow it to be lost on a national scale. On April 15, 2002 Lighthouse, Inc. approved the creation a subsidiary named the National Longhouse, Ltd. to develop and oversee a new national Native American -themed, parent-child program.
In less than one year’s time, National Longhouse, Ltd. was able to assemble all of the pieces for its new NATIVE SONS AND DAUGHTERS PROGRAMS® family activities. To prevent similar mistakes from occurring as in the past, National Longhouse developed strong national guidelines. It has and continues to receive official support from the Friday and Keltner families and is committed to receive input from the First Nation people.
On January 1, 2003, a 200-member pilot program was started, the Two Feathers Local Longhouse, in Avon Lake, Ohio. The NATIONAL LONGHOUSE program was expanded on November 7, 2004 when the creation of the NS&D PATHFINDERS℠ program was added for older children. On June 4, 2007, it was mutually agreed upon for National Longhouse to legally separate from Lighthouse, but retain close ties. Today, programs have expanded into Alabama, California, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio.
Three Fires Longhouse
In summer of 2015, the Three Fires Longhouse group was established under the National Longhouse Program to serve northern Metro Detroit. The Three Fires Longhouse believes strongly in the Father-child bonding that Harold Keltner and Joe Friday formed their original program around. We are also sensitive to the concerns that some have expressed regarding Native American theme abuses, although we believe as Keltner and Friday did, that respectful use of the theme can be a strong tool for teaching and strengthening the father-child bond. To this end, we are committed to a limited and very respectful use of the Native American theme in our local program.
With approximately 100 families forming our founding group, the Three Fires Longhouse program looks forward to a growing and lasting presence in northern Metro Detroit. We welcome any families that wish to join.